Don’t let the cheese stand alone

Petey likes it simple; very basic, with no fanciness.  He’d be quietly satisfied if it was the same way every single time.

Sometimes simple is ok, but I really like to mix things up; today one way, tomorrow, another.  With me, variety is the spice of life.

I’m just talking grilled cheese here, folks.

An episode of “Chopped” on Food Network got me to thinking about grilled cheese.  A contestant decided to make a chicken pot pie grilled cheese sandwich.

Then she commenced to making a giant, gloppy mess of the whole thing.

She made chicken pot pie filling.  Then she cut some slices of brioche bread.  She filled it with pot pie stuff, slapped on a slice of cheese, and threw it, unbuttered, onto a ridged grill pan.

It didn’t brown, got stuck to the grill, and leaked all over.  She ended up shoveling it into a bowl and serving it to the judges like that,

Shockingly, she was chopped.

If she had really wanted to make a chicken pot pie grilled cheese, there were actually two ways that probably would’ve worked.  She should have made a very thick filling.  Then assembled it by using one slice of cheese on each slice of bread, spreading a layer of filling between them, and browning and crisping it in a non-stick pan.

Or alternatively, made two thin-ish grilled cheese sandwiches, cutting each in the shape of a gratin dish, and using them as the top and bottom crust of a traditional pot pie.

She would not have gotten chopped.

Even though a grilled cheese seems like the epitome of simple, it’s also simple to make a bad one.  You can burn it, over or under melt the cheese, or make it into an oil slick.  But with a few tips, a delicious, well-made sandwich is mere minutes away.

Break out your well-seasoned cast iron frying pan (or a heavy non-stick skillet), and set it on the burner at about medium-low.  Smear a very thin layer of mayo on one slice of bread.  The egg in the mayo will give the bread an almost French toast-like surface.  Place the bread mayo side down onto the heated skillet.  Layer on the cheese and any other fillings, starting and finishing with the cheese so it will act as a glue.

Put another thin layer of mayo on the other slice of bread and place on top, mayo side up.  Put a lid on the pan and cook for about 4-5 minutes.  Uncover pan, check and flip if the bottom slice of bread is browned and the cheese has started to melt.  Flip and cook until the other side is browned and crispy.

Remove and let sit for a couple minutes then slice and serve.

If you’re Petey, you pick Velveeta on Wonder Bread.

But…

Here are a few ideas if you’d like to shake things up:

The Kid likes fried green tomatoes, bacon and pimento cheese on a hearty homemade white made with a touch of cornmeal.  Or crazy sharp cheddar on chewy, mouth-puckering sourdough.

I like caramelized onion and goat cheese on French baguette. And also sautéed mushrooms, short ribs and Laughing Cow on Hawaiian bread.

So here’s my advice: go to the fancy cheese store, and buy some new interesting types.  Then go to a good bakery and get a couple loaves of funky breads.  Visit the produce department, and pick up some guest stars.

Then go into your kitchen and have a grilled cheese party.  No RSVP required.

Thanks for your time.

Fee day-o come and I want to eat some

In my daydreams, I’m glamorous and alluring.  Late at night, after an exclusive party, my driver brings me home to my large tastefully-decorated apartment in a luxury building in Art Deco City.

There, still attired in slinky velvet and expensive shoes, I whip up an intimate late supper for my gentleman friend Cary Grant and myself.

This may look like Greta Garbo, but it’s me I tells ya!

In the real world though, money can be tight, and Petey and I need some grub to fill our bellies.  So I still make dinner for two but clothed in a sweat suit and my fuzzy Wigwam socks.

But in both realities, it’s the same dish; a fideo (fid-ay-oh) frittata.  It’s an Italian open-faced omelet.  They’re usually studded with potatoes.  This one isn’t.  This one’s flecked with fideo.

Fideo is the Spanish word for noodle.  This variety is about 2 inches long, and the width of angel hair pasta.  The La Moderna brand is widely available in the Latin section of most grocery stores.  It’s also usually very cheap—like 2 or 3 bags for a dollar cheap.It’s traditionally used in a Mexican soup.  The fideo cooking process though, is not the normal noodle soup method of just tossing it raw into pot of soup.  The secret is in the toasting.

Oil is added to a skillet, and the fideo is gently tossed until brown and nutty.  In my frittata, after rendering the bacon, I pour out all the fat, but don’t wipe the pan, and what little bit of bacon grease left is what I use.

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Toasted fideo–it’s worth the effort in the finished product.

It’s the height of folly to employ neglect or abandonment during the toasting portion of the program.  It only takes 5-7 minutes, and even I; impatience incarnate, can manage that.

Getting all your fillings cooked off and out of the way will make the assembly and cooking a breeze whether you’re just in from a late night, or it’s simply time for dinner.   I make my fillings early in the day and stash ‘em in the fridge until it’s time to cook.  You can even do them the day before.  Then in less than 15 minutes you could be sitting down to a meal.

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Tossing and coating.

This frittata can be eaten with toast and a fruit salad for breakfast, or some mixed greens, crusty bread, and a glass of dry white for supper.  The other night I served it with some herb-roasted grape tomatoes (and glasses of sun tea).

Fideo Frittata

3 cups broccoli, cut into small florets and blanched until just tender

1/2 small onion, chopped

2 cups mushrooms sliced

2 tablespoons sliced sun-dried tomatoes in oil

2 slices bacon

3/4 cups raw fideo

2 cups chicken stock

6 eggs, well-beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper

1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, cubed or coarsely shredded

3/4 cup Marsala

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper

Cut bacon into 1/2 inch strips, and cook until brown and crispy in heat-proof non-stick skillet.  Remove and place on paper towels.  Discard oil, but don’t wipe out pan.

Put fideo in same pan, and stirring constantly, sauté until pasta has turned amber.  Pour chicken stock into skillet and cook pasta until tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

In same skillet, add olive oil, and cook mushrooms and onions until the edges have begun to crisp and caramelize.  Deglaze pan with Marsala and cook until the liquid has cooked out.

 At this point, you can stop, store everything, and finish later.

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat pan, and melt butter.  Add all the veggies and fideo and toss to coat.  Pour in egg, jiggling so it’s evenly distributed.  Scatter mozzarella and bacon over the top.  Cook for a couple of minutes, ’til bottom is set.

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After assembly, before the oven.

Place in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven when middle is just set (check by cutting small slit in center), cheese is melted, and bacon has begun to sizzle.  Don’t let it get brown.

Slice and serve.  Serves 2- 4.

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Dinner elegante!

When sliced and plated with a crispy, bright salad, my fideo frittata looks pretty fancy (even though in my real life the closest I get to sophistication is watching BBC America while wearing pants).

Thanks for your time.